Arts & Culture

Lone Star Leather Goods

The Dallas siblings behind Leatherology forge a new model for luxe goods

Photo: Kelsey Foster Wilson

Rae and David Liu

When Dallas natives Rae and David Liu left home for college (Columbia and Georgetown Universities, respectively), moving back wasn’t part of the ten-year plan—and the siblings had plans. Rae studied accessories design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and went to work for Alexander Wang as the designer’s accessories development manager. David ended up in senior management at Google in London. But with age and distance came perspective. “As we got older, we began to gravitate back toward home to be closer to family,” David says. 

The children of first-generation Americans who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan nearly forty years ago and founded a successful manufacturing company in Texas, Rae and David were raised on the American dream. “[Our parents] instilled in us a sense of determination, hard work, and integrity from a young age,” David says. “Ours was a very entrepreneurial family.” Rae in particular—even during her tenure at Alexander Wang, where she helped launch the label’s leather handbag and footwear lines—never stopped daydreaming of designing her own pieces. With her thirtieth birthday looming, she decided to stop dreaming and do, and in 2011, she returned to Dallas to develop Leatherology full time.

photo: Kelsey Foster Wilson
A mood board.

“I came away from my time at Alexander Wang with a deep appreciation for thoughtful design, craftsmanship, and quality,” she says, as well as an affection for the timeless organic nature of leather goods. “I love that leather is real,” she says. “That it’s natural. It’s imperfect but long-lasting and durable, too.” She also left New York convinced she could deliver the same luxury and style at a better price point, one to which zeros weren’t added for the prestige of a logo. The fledgling line expanded a new direct-to-consumer, online-only model to aid in that cost-conscious approach. In 2016, David finally capitulated to Rae and joined the team. But Dallas did its part, too. “The city has such a vibrant and diverse business community,” he says. “It’s exciting to experience its growth firsthand.” 

Today, Leatherology’s collection of minimalist premium leather purses, totes, duffels, briefcases, backpacks, and travel accessories in fresh-but-enduring silhouettes has developed a vocal following of celebrity fans such as the tennis champ and clothing designer Serena Williams, and L.A. entrepreneurs Erin and Sara Foster (the daughters of the music producer David Foster). Leatherology owns its own factory, so the company can be nimble, responding in real time to customer feedback and incorporating it directly into the design process while also reducing waste, which creates room in the budget for Leatherology to use the finest full-grain leathers from top tanneries in Italy and Germany. 

photo: Kelsey Foster Wilson
A hand-painted monogram in progress

Instead of the flashy labels that global fashion houses favor, Rae and David opted for the timeless appeal of the monogram. “Monogramming is such an integral part of Southern culture,” David says. “Everything we sell can be monogrammed,” whether the initials are discreetly debossed in foil using heated metal dyes along the edge of a Kessler weekender (Rae’s go-to for work and travel) or at the top of a Parker backpack (David’s everyday carryall). Leatherology artisans can also hand draw monograms with leather paint or, as of this spring, stitch letters using the Italian trapunto technique to create a raised, quilt-like effect. 

While there are no plans for a brick-and-mortar location, a new mobile monogramming truck allows Leatherology to reach beyond the computer screen and engage with its clients face-to-face. “It’s a challenge for us to fully convey the quality of our products online,” David says. “Pop-ups give customers a chance to touch and feel each item.” Stops in Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; Nashville; and Charleston, South Carolina, have already yielded fruitful results, including the company’s current ten-piece collaboration with the designer Diane von Furstenberg, which materialized after Sandra Campos, the CEO of DVF and another Dallas native, saw photos from the L.A. event on Instagram and “slid into our DMs,” David jokes—an apt demonstration of the power of both technology and real-life connections.